Art, Inside Out

Blitz Magazine, September 2001

Ah, the Summer of 2001…

Everybody was protesting something; I just wish someone had had a clearly-articulated point. We watched riot squads in action. At the G8 Summit in Genoa, Canada’s Prime Minister Chretien sat down for a confab with Bob Geldof and Bono; outside a young man died on the pavement, shot in the head. Who knows what he wanted…’something to do with stamping out evil capitalism, perhaps wanting it to be less evil.

In Vancouver, when people have something to protest, they do it at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), which has become the de facto social meeting point. It’s architecturally grand, centrally-located, and surrounded by the Towers of Power (the Law Courts). Perfect. And now, it is decorated. With outdoor art. Specifically things like a vehicle sculpture by Kim Adams and some ‘stranded boats’ by Ken Lum. They’re fine…inoffensive. Just, well, why.

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On Location, according to the press release, “is a commissioning project created as an artistic legacy that will enrich and animate the public spaces around the VAG. Designed to celebrate the rich social and political diversity that forms urban life in Vancouver, it will address subjects such as street life and cultural histories that are often ignored in public art projects.”

The VAG isn’t only popular for protesting. It’s a hot spot for busking and selling jewellery (if junior capitalists can get permits), and for celebratory events (if the Vancouver Police don’t mind). This “complex and active street culture” contributed to the rationale behind On Location: “…the gallery has been largely focused on the exhibitions inside, resulting in a sharp distinction between the interior activities and the exterior world,” continues the release. “Recent planning at the gallery has prioritized projects that reinforce a strong and visible link between art and its social context, that provide a greater public transparency for the institution and create increased opportunities to integrate visual arts into the public spaces that surround it. We want the gallery’s building and exterior site to communicate ‘art’.”


Hmmm. We are skeptical. Because art is a matter of taste. It’s impossible for a group of board members and curators, regardless of how much public consultation has been conducted, to tell the public that what they are putting in its open spaces—in its collective face—is ‘art’. And, given the architectural disasters which Vancouver City Hall has allowed to be constructed on the Georgia Street waterfront and the shores of False Creek—not to mention the absurdly mundane public sculpture everyone is constantly made to look away from—we are loathe to have any more visuals foisted upon us. As far as ‘art’ is concerned, it’s often a good thing that it is inside—if people want to look at it, they know where it is.